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Do Sweat It! Enjoying yoga and perspiration August 1, 2011

Posted by Simon Maxwell Apter in Essays.
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For the first few years of my practice—and indeed, occasionally today—I was self conscious of my sweat. For whatever reason, there’s something about an asana room that opens the floodgates more than other torrid spaces, and I’ve often chanted my three OM’s with a trace, then a trickle, and then a torrent, of perspiration running down from my shoulders to that uncomfortable spot behind the manufacturer’s label of my shorts. I used to shy away from adjustments, for fear that the teacher would be disgusted by the incessant dripping; and I used to seek out real estate on the edges of the room so that I wouldn’t be boxed in by students whom I assumed would be revolted. Though I knew yoga to be a purifying practice, I felt that there was something embarrassingly wrong with me, and I tried to protect others from my freakishly copious moisture.

Sometimes during my regular practice, I’d look with envy at fellow students who’d created beautifully geometric sweat circles and patterns on their shirts over the course of their practice–on all but the chilliest days, my T-shirts are completely saturated by the third surya namaskar. Now, there’s something to be said for my “comprehensive” style of perspiring—it’s like having the box set instead of the greatest hits album—but the art of selective sweating can be wonderfully literary as well and, given my verbal inclinations, I feel like I’m missing out. Tom Wolfe describes in A Man in Full,

Croker stared at the upright middle finger and squinted and stared some more, and his face grew red. And then Peepgass saw them . . . the saddlebags! The saddlebags! The saddlebags had formed! They were complete! The great stains of sweat on the tycoon’s shirt had now spread from both sides, from under the arms and across the rib cage and beneath the curves of his mighty chest until they had met, come together, hooked up—two dark expanses joined at the sternum. They looked just like a pair of saddlebags on a horse.

Oh, Peepgass loved it! Harry had done it again!—gotten his saddlebags—even with a tough old bird like Charle Croker!

Fellows here at the PlannersBanc at the end of the table were nudging each other and smiling. They’d noticed it, too. Peepgass was elated. Somehow Harry had redeemed them all. He turned toward the Artiste and said, behind his hand, “Saddlebags, Harry! Saddlebags!”

Ahh, the aesthetics of perspiration! How could Tom Wolfe’s Charlie Croker be so splendidly skillful at sweating while I’m just a slowly melting man? It’s Yoga 101, of course but, as usual, it’s all about intention.

We’re taught the intention that engenders an act is just as—if not more—significant than the action itself. So to find a less judgmental frame in which to watch my sweat, I practiced hot yoga, where if you don’t sweat as much as I do, you’ll overheat like a stalled semi heading over the Grapevine into L.A. If instructors didn’t want to touch me when I was more Swamp Thing than man, then, well, it was their own damn fault for teaching hot yoga.

John and Yoko

Clearly, she doesn't mind the sweat generated by this pose.

To get the full experience, I took a 75-minute class at Prana Power Yoga here in New York City on what was, at the time, the hottest day of the year. (Last month’s heat wave has since relegated that day into bronze-medal position as far as hottest day of the year goes, but it was still somewhere between 95 and 100 degrees.) Despite the weather, though, it was still hotter inside the asana room than it was outside.

Like most yoga classes, Prana turned me into a raisin. Because I expected it, though, I enjoyed it, indeed felt sympathy for those whose mat-pools were only half the size of mine. I hoped the instructor would come over to witness the wetness she’d wrought.

If sweating could be enjoyable and encouraged in one yoga class, why couldn’t it be so highly regarded in others? Embrace your waste, and you’ll never feel embarrassed again.

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